Let’s build on what we all share

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A team agreeing to cooperate. Awesome things will now happen!

I’ve had a pretty civic-minded week. First I hit The FuseBox to learn about the future of Brighton & Hove from Nick Hibberd, B&H Council’s Director of Economy, Environment and Culture, and his colleague Max Woodford. Then I heard Keith Taylor, our local MEP, talk about Brexit. All that’s set me thinking about how cooperation’s better than competition.

Brighton and Hove’s distributed future

The City of B&H wants to be “a nationally significant hub of employment and productivity growth”. It’s already pretty successful – it’s the UK’s third biggest service exporter after London and Edinburgh. And it’s growing fast.

But that creates problems too. At current growth rates, we’re going to need about 30,000 new houses by 2030. There’s only room for 13,000 and probably only capacity to build about 7,000. B&H’s office space is equally tightly constrained.

So the city’s looking beyond itself for solutions. It’s been a big part of the push to create Greater Brighton – a region of shared ambitions, infrastructure and general problem solving stretching all the way inland to Gatwick, and from Worthing to Seaford along the coast.

Big new housing schemes are getting the go-ahead throughout the region. And they’re part of a wider transport, technological and commercial development plan. By reaching out beyond boundaries to collaborate with its neighbours, B&H is finding exciting new ways of growing.

Thinking across even bigger borders

Greater Brighton’s a lovely example of how productive looking beyond traditional borders and creating new ways of coming together and collaborating can be. And that struck me with even greater force last night, at a talk given by our local MEP Keith Taylor.

He talked about issues from global warming to international crime that show no respect for traditional borders and so demand collaborative, co-operative, trans-national responses. Here too, community beats division. We’re at our strongest when we work together. Co-operation is king.

Brexit’s an obvious counterpoint to that. One of the few things Remainers and Leavers can agree on is that it’s been handled very divisively. And that’s weakened the UK on the world stage, shattered parliamentary authority and caused immense stress and uncertainty for millions of people.

So let’s all collaborate!

Which is a lovely idea – but what’s the best way to make it happen? Well, just get out there and do it. Build bridges not walls in everything you do. Come together as one!

And it’s a particularly interesting challenge in a marketing context. Marketing’s a discipline that’s obsessed with things like competitors, USPs, competitive sets, etc. They’re all ways of defining division rather than commonality. Reversing that can take you to some interesting places…

Step beyond the borders of your marketplace. Think about what your brand shares with others, defining it by its peers not its competitors. Pin down common selling points not unique ones, map out collaborative not competitive sets – and so on.

That’ll give you a whole new way of understanding your brand and a whole new set of inspirations for evolving it. And it’ll set you thinking about what we share with each other, which is where co-operation always begins.

How to practice being surprised

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I’m part Brand Strategist, part Science Fiction author. Sometimes they’re very different worlds, but sometimes I learn something in one part of my life that’s very useful in the other. And the other day thinking about science fiction helped me realise something very important about prediction, and then about brands.

Tomorrow’s not what it used to be

When you’re an SF writer, people often think you’ve got a shortcut to the future. It can get a bit embarrassing, because in fact nothing dates like technology. Everyone had an iPod ten years ago. Twenty years ago mobile phones had only just stopped being bricks. And the very latest record player from the Eighties? It’s an artefact from a different time.

And that creates problems when you’re writing about tomorrow. The future’s the one place we’re all headed towards, all at exactly the same speed. And, because time always passes, when your readers sit down to read your SF book, they’ll be closer to the future you’ve invented than you were when you were inventing it. And that can make anything you’ve got wrong very easy to spot indeed.

Look at famously excellent SF movie ‘Blade Runner’, for example. It’s set in 2019. Now that we’re actually in 2018, it’s very easy to see that it’s not actually very accurate. Nobody in the film has mobile phones and none of them use the internet. We don’t have flying cars (an ongoing tragedy) or almost-human robots. And Los Angeles doesn’t look anything like Ridley Scott’s urban hellscape, which is actually quite a relief.

All the possible futures

So, if SF doesn’t predict the future, what’s it actually for? Well, ‘Blade Runner’ is still a great film to watch. Of course it tells a very human story, about love, mortality and loss. But it does something else very valuable. By showing you a world that’s not actually tomorrow, but is different from today in some pretty surprising ways, it helps you practice being surprised.

And what I realised about prediction. On one level, it’s impossible. Nobody knows exactly what will happen next – just ask the pollsters from the last election. But it can help you get ready for what might happen next. And that’s a very important thing to do.

To do that, you need to define the best of what you are now, about the genuine, constructive value you bring to the world around you. Then you test it out. You think about all the different tomorrows that could happen – most very sensible, some completely nutso. And you work out how you’ll bring the best of yourself to bear on all of them.

And whatever it is that always works, whatever it is that always makes the world better not just for you but for the most important people around you – that’s what you build your brand and all your brand comms on. Because you know that, whatever unpredictable things happen, it’ll always help you make the best of them, for you customers, your colleagues and for you.